“Court fines a man of $4K for ‘liking’ defamatory Facebook posts” is the title of article in the NY Post’s website.
A friend asked if I thought this was Brassy of a court to do. As a lawyer I like to know all the facts I can before attempted to explain why the court ruled a certain way. I clicked on the link and read the short article. In my opinion this is a flashy headline and the author giving bits of information while citing other news sources.
Questions about the case:
Does this mean a court in the United States can fine someone for liking a defamatory Facebook post? What was the defamatory statement that got this man in trouble? Do I need to be careful what I like on Facebook?
First, this case happened in a lower regional Swiss Court not New York Courts or a court anywhere in the United States. They are different legal systems and comparing the two would be like comparing apples and oranges. While it could be possible for a court in the United States to fine someone for liking a defamatory Facebook post, this case will not set a precedent for it in the United States. A precedent is when a court makes a decision that will be used later for cases involving similar facts (Black’s Law Dictionary 1015, 9th ed. 2009). For lawyers this is also known as Stare Decisis which is Latin for “to stand by things decided” (Black’s Law Dictionary 1207, 9th ed. 2009).
Second, a defamatory statement is a statement that is likely to lower the person being talked about in the estimation of reasonable people and in particular to cause that person to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear or dislike (Black’s Law Dictionary 377, 9th ed. 2009). Defamation is the act of harming the reputation of another by making a false Statement to a third person (Black’s Law Dictionary 377, 9th ed. 2009). Going to The Guardian’s article that the NY Post cited, I read more about this case. The article states that the “liked” Facebook past claims that the man went to prison under Switzerland’s Anti-Racism laws when he compared a Jewish ritual to Nazi practices. Based on my reading of the article in Swiss courts the defendant (the one accused) has the burden to show the defamatory statement is false. When the defendant could not show that this was false he was fined, because in liking the post the defendant shared it with all of his followers and spread the defamatory statement.
Third, according to The Guardian’s article the lawyer involved in this case said that the court needs to decide if hitting a like button on social media is given the same weight as other forms of speech more commonly cited in defamation cases. I am going to agree that courts need to decide if “liking” a social media post or sharing a social media post you did not write or comment on, should be given the same weight before I can comment on this case further. I think it would be a slippery slope for a court to decide this, but clearly this is going to be something courts need to handle.
I will say this, as a good rule of thumb when liking or sharing something on social media would you say it to that person’s face? Would you be OK with your employer, or future employer, seeing what you are liking and sharing on social media? And based on this case, is it worth potential jail time or fines to hurt a person’s reputation with a lie or rumor?
No legal advice is being given in this commentary. Please seek legal representation if you need legal advice based on something similar to this case commentary.